23rd June 1940. Music While You Work.
In the dark days of World War II anything to improve production and morale was important and a key part of this began on a Sunday morning Today in 1940 with the first broadcast of Music While You Work (MWYW).
Originally on the BBC Forces Programme, the first day featured Dudley Beaven on the organ and later The Organolists: the BBC was obsessed with organ music in the early days of the war.(1)
Many regular bands or ensembles made their name on MWYW including memorable names, later to the Author, such as Troise and his Banjoliers, Bernard Monshin and his Rio Tango Band and Cecil Norman and his Rhythm Players.
There was no signature tune initially until October 1940 when Eric Coates’ memorable tune ‘Calling all Workers’ was used.(2)
MWYW beamed to factories, in half-hour programme, was up-beat, continuous music, originally twice-daily, later increased to three to cater for the night-shift, a daily ration of music which was said to increase productivity by up to 13%.(3)
The BBC in its complete control saw fit to advertise the recipient factories on sound level with the music being transmitted over the Tannoy speakers by wire, which unlike wave-bands avoided interference and problems of getting the correct place on dials.
Supplied by the likes of Reddifusion it was thus suitable for many works and institutions.
The BBC was very prescriptive in those days and laid down strict rules as to what was permissible. Three things were banned completely: insufficient rhythm or melody; lethargic pieces or sudden increase in tempo, and thirdly waltzes as they induced a soporific feeling.
The music had to reinforce the steady rhythm of production and to encourage, by its cheerfulness, which was allowed, singing or whistling!
The popular tune Deep in the Heart of Texas was banned as it required intermittent clapping or in a factory use of spanners, thus temporarily interrupting production or damaging machinery. One can imagine BBC memos flying to and froe!
Everything was to be at a constant volume and also banned was loud drumming as this could be mistaken for gun-fire, in fact Ken Mackintosh was banned after one performance as his drummer indulged in ‘rim-shots’!
MWYW’s last programme was on 29th September 1967 the last day of the Light Programme before becoming Radio 4.
The BBC would have problems today as modern pop music would not fit any of the conditions prescribed in the 1940.s.
(1) Jimmy Leach and the Organolists played on the last programme in 1967.
(2) Eric Coates, born in Hucknall, Notts., composed many memorable tunes including The Dambusters.
(3) At 10.30 am and 3.45 pm and in 1942 at 10.30 pm.